Scot Pollard remembers welcoming quiet, wide-eyed McDonald’s All-American Paul Pierce to the University of Kansas campus in the summer of 1995.
“He was so young. He just turned 17 when he got there. We called him ‘Bambi’ because he was all elbows and knees and hadn’t grown into his body yet,” said Pollard, who in ’95 was getting ready to start his junior season at KU.
“As soon as you saw him on the court you could tell he was special. We knew superstardom was on the way. We saw a guy with a great work ethic, one who matured as a teammate before our eyes,” added Pollard, the only person to have been a teammate of Pierce in both college and the NBA.
Pollard, who played with Pierce on the 2008 Boston Celtics team that won the NBA title as well as the 1995-96 and ’96-97 KU teams that went 63-7 overall with two Big 12 titles, an Elite Eight appearance and Sweet 16 berth, spoke to The Star on Monday — the day after Pierce competed in his last game as a professional.
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Pierce scored six points while logging 22 minutes in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 104-91 Game 7 first-round playoff loss to the Utah Jazz. Pierce, a 39-year-old 10-time NBA all-star, had announced in the preseason this season would be his last.
“I was reunited with him in Boston (2007-08 title season) after playing against him for a decade,” said Pollard, 42, who played for Detroit, Sacramento, Indiana, Cleveland and Boston in an 11-year NBA career. Pierce played for Boston for 15 seasons, Brooklyn one, Washington one and the Clippers two.
“In Boston he was the same great guy, the same worker, the same gym rat. He would play one-on-one against anybody, even the staff members. After practice he never wanted to leave. He just worked all the time. People always said Paul’s body never looks like it’s in shape,” Pollard added of the 235-pounder’s small forward frame. “There are a lot of great players whose body type isn’t ripped up and shredded. Paul is one of those.
“He’s really strong. Out of all the guys I played against, Paul is one of the hardest guys to knock the ball out of his hands. You don’t see him get the ball knocked out of his hands. I’ll cut to the end: He was a great teammate.”
Pollard says he’s thankful that Pierce made it possible for him to win an elusive championship. Pollard had been close, playing with Pierce on a KU team that went 34-2 but was shocked by eventual national champion Arizona in the Sweet 16 as well as that team that missed advancing to the Final Four by three points (60-57 loss to Syracuse).
Pollard played on a Cleveland team that lost in the 2007 Finals to San Antonio and on a stellar Sacramento squad that lost to the Lakers in Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
“It felt good to have a Jayhawk be the most important one in getting me a ring,” Pollard said, “having been on teams that coulda, woulda, shoulda. I was out for the season (in Boston with injury). But being part of that title team was special. It was even more special having a Jayhawk win MVP.”
Pollard recalls Pierce being humble in victory.
“He was never the guy in other guys’ faces bragging who he is. The insecure guys are the bigger talkers. The hard workers tend to not do that. Paul is a guy who never talked a lot,” Pollard said. “Oh he talked trash once in a while, but he was quiet, not the showman of getting in people’s faces. He’d talk a little and back it up.
“People know. It was the truth. That became his nickname. I know Shaq (O’Neal) named him that (The Truth). He didn’t talk but when he did he backed it up and that’s the truth,” Pollard added with a laugh.
Pollard said he and Pierce “don’t get together to talk about the old days or anything like that, but we stay in touch. I’m proud of him and what he’s accomplished.”
Pierce, by the way, took to Twitter after the final game of his final postseason.
Pierce on Twitter also thanked family members and former coaches, including his coach at Kansas, Roy Williams.
Former KU guard Wayne Selden of the Memphis Grizzlies tweeted: “Congrats on the great career @paulpierce34 .. you inspired a young kid from Roxbury to go get it.”